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Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years Hardcover – October 30, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Asserting that Jacqueline Kennedy's role in shaping her husband's presidency has been under-examined, Leaming (Katharine Hepburn) offers a corrective in this intimate look at a very private woman. Initially inclined to keep herself as much in the background as possible, says Leaming, Jacqueline Kennedy became an increasingly visible and vocal first lady as she realized how effective she could be as an image maker. It's in this capacity that Leaming convincingly depicts her as being instrumental in shaping the course of her husband's administration: charming, intuitive and socially savvy, she was clearly adept at recognizing precisely how to win over any given individual or audience, and to convince them to see her husband in a favorable light. While many world leaders, for example, were initially inclined to view John F. Kennedy as a playboy and an intellectual lightweight, Jackie skillfully massaged their perceptions until they began to take him more seriously and consequently to be much more responsive to his foreign policy agenda. But even as she worked hard on his behalf, Jack continually betrayed her with his legendary infidelities; the impact of this on Jackie's psyche is also a major theme here. Indeed, this is as much a psychological biography as a political one, and Leaming explores Jackie's complex and often painful inner life with subtlety and compassion. Unabashedly sympathetic toward her protagonist, Leaming provides a fascinating glimpse into the psychodynamics of one of the 20th century's most famous marriages, and her assertion that Jackie Kennedy deserves more credit than she's typically gotten for her husband's successes is persuasive. 32 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)Forecast: Leaming's bio of Katharine Hepburn was a bestseller, and one can predict generous sales for this title, which Leaming will promote in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., including an appearance on the Today show.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Despite the welter of material on Jacqueline Kennedy, biographer Leaming has indeed produced an original and compelling portrait of Jackie as first lady. Leaming has plumbed primary sources heretofore unused (such as the letters of Harold Macmillan) and conducted interviews with sometime friends and associates, perhaps more willing to talk now that Jackie has died. Leaming makes a persuasive case for Jackie's substantive contribution as first lady in the role of diplomat. Jackie did the research and softened up visiting leaders, who then met the president already impressed with his administration. Leaming also explains Jackie's highly criticized absences from the White House: she was fleeing her husband's flagrant womanizing. Leaming's extensive documentation of his shameless conduct and his cruelty to his wife is breathtaking. (Her theories about why they married and why Jackie stood for such treatment are less dispositive.) The publisher plans a national publicity campaign. Public libraries should stock up, but they won't be able to meet the certain demand no matter how many copies they own. Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684862093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862095
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,155,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barbara Leaming is a NY Times bestselling author. Three of her books have been NY Times Notable Books of the Year. Her most recent book, "Churchill Defiant: Fighting On 1945-1955," received The Emery Reves Award from the International Churchill Centre. Her groundbreaking biography of America's 35th President, "Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman," was the first to detail the lifelong influence of British history and culture and especially of Winston Churchill on JFK. Leaming's articles have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Times of London and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. I've never read anything before that made me feel like I really knew Jackie Kennedy - but this book makes me feel not only that I know what it would have been like to meet her, but also that I know how she felt at every single moment during her husband's presidency. For the first time I can understand why she stayed with a man who was constantly cheating on her, and how she could have continued to love him. The account of the assassination brought tears to my eyes. When you know the truth of what had been going on in the Kennedys' personal lives at that time, the events are even more heartbreaking.
The book also gave me an incredible insight into Jack Kennedy - how the same man could have bungled things so terribly at the Bay of Pigs and then become such a great leader during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world was on the brink of nuclear war then, and this book gives a minute by minute account of how decisions were reached - which is very relevant now when the USA is facing another terrible crisis. If you want to understand how a real man can become a hero, faults and all, read this book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Laura Siegel on December 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am surprised to see so many customer reviews complaining about this book's supposed over emphasis on Mr., rather than Mrs Kennedy. The discussion of Jack's politics, personality, and philandering provide crucial insights into the Kennedy marriage and the choices Jackie made, form her public role as First Lady to her private activities with the children, etc. The research that went into this book is so exhaustive. Using various primary sources, Leaming recreates the Kennedy White House in a second-by-second timeline, bringing the history and the people involved to life in a way that no biography (at least none that I've ever read) has. Far from boring, this account is riveting! I was especially enthralled by the section on the birth and death of Patrick, the Kennedys' third child. The level of detail on these several days' events is amazing. I couldn't put this book down. If you are interested in placing Jackie in a larger historical context, while still getting plenty of details about her personal life, vices, sex appeal and fashion sense, then this bio is a must.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By shirley lieb on June 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Having recently read several other of the newer Kennedy books, I was not shocked this time to find out about "Dr. Feelgood" who routinely attended both Jack and Jackie in times of stress. During those more innocent times of the 60's, I don't really think that they totally understood the ramifications of being shot up with drugs so regularly. That side of their personality aside, I found this book quite fascinating as to how they could have such a messed up marriage and still carry off a stunning political reign.
They were a team, bizarre as Jack Kennedy's sexual behavior was, these two were a highly energized dynamic duo, each feeding off the success of the other. Jack loved nothing more than to show off his brilliant wife and Jackie thrived in the spotlight whenever she had demonstrated one of her amazing coups of winning the hearts of many recalcitrant world leaders. They were magical, both of them.
However, away from the glitter of White House social life, Jack continued his depraved sexual life, leaving a dismayed Jackie to turn the other way, always wondering what she lacked.
She did not like the White House and spent more weeks away from it than we knew before. It was she that loved the Virginia hunt life and the house they built there together. For her it was an escape from having to come face to face with a long line of young girls brought in to perform sexual favors with the President.
But in the end, behind it all, after the death of Patrick and in the months leading up to the assasination, there was a change. A deep and loving devotion grew between the two of them. An abiding respect developed and Jack Kennedy for the first time realized what he has been doing to his wife. Had he lived, I think that he would have changed. He was already on the brink.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Val Holley on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Leaming's brilliance as a biographer is to discern, from painstaking reconstruction of contributory events, the motivations behind her subjects' history-making deeds. However, many reviewers have scolded Leaming for presuming to know what her latest subject, Jacqueline Kennedy, was thinking.
Indeed, Leaming is guilty as charged. But if a reviewer asks if Leaming's suppositions as to what Jackie was thinking are the product of research, logic, and common sense, the answer would have to be yes. Her chief theories -- that JFK viewed Jackie as a replacement for his deceased sister Kathleen, and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan as a replacement for his disabled father -- would surely be denied vehemently by each of the principals, but that doesn't make those theories wrong.
Although Leaming did not intend "Mrs. Kennedy" as a hatchet job, she ably demonstrates why JFK's sexual exploits really did endanger national security. Her book explodes the myths of Camelot and JFK as Devoted Family Man even more thoroughly than Seymour Hersh's "Dark Side of Camelot."
Now the bad news: in at least one instance, flawed research has resulted in Leaming's ascribing motivations that were impossible. She claims (on pages 149-150) that Jackie was seething at Frank Sinatra during a Sept. 21, 1961, White House luncheon because Sinatra had humiliated her the previous weekend while sailing with the Kennedys at Hyannis Port. Unfortunately, Leaming has mixed up her weekends. Sinatra's infamous stint at Hyannis Port occurred after that luncheon, so Jackie, unless amazingly clairvoyant, could not have been angry about it. (See the Washington Star, Sept. 24, 1961, page A-5; many major newspapers reported that same day on Sinatra's Cape Cod cruise with the Kennedys.
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